The event to attend this week is most certainly Notting Hill Carnival on Sunday and bank holiday monday. Since it’s humble beginnings in 1964, when 500 people attended, it now boasts crowds of over 2 million every year, making it second only to Rio Carnival in terms of size. And don’t worry, it provides the party atmosphere to match.
Although the main carnival doesn’t start until Sunday, if you’re into steel bands it’s worth coming along on Saturday to observe the annual Panorama steel band competition, which has been taking place since 1978.
Sunday is family day and usually a less hectic less busy version of Monday’s festivities. The opening ceremony kicks off at 6am (one for the early birds) with various dancing and musical performances. The main festivities don’t really begin until around midday so there’s really no need to wake up at the crack of dawn.
Eat your fill of West Indian food before choosing your spot to watch (or join!) the children’s procession at noon. The parade normally lasts up to 7 hours but I would advise arriving before it sets off if you want to get a good spot to see the seemingly never ending line of excitable costumed children weaving their way through the streets. For those seeking a less hectic, more child-friendly carnival, Sunday’s the day for you.
Monday is when the party really starts. Alcohol flows, jerk chicken sizzles and music booms as the crowd gears up for the main procession at 12 o clock. Community groups, bands, clubs and residents from all around London, who have been working on their dazzling costumes all year (using an estimated 3 million sequins, 15,000 feathers and 30litres of body paint!), gather for the main procession of dancing, music and colour. If you don’t manage to get close to the procession there’s plenty to keep your foot moving in the side streets, which are kitted out with 70 performing stages, 10 steel bands and over 40 sound systems so big you will wish you’d brought ear plugs! What with the music, costumes, crowds and dancing the atmosphere is addictively electric and even the most unwilling dancers will find themselves swinging their hips or tapping their feet.
Do be aware that the crowds are intense though, so meet your friends before you reach the carnival area, beware of pickpockets and don’t expect to be getting anywhere quickly!